[Zombie Cinema] Idea for slowing down conflicts

Started by Christoph Boeckle, September 20, 2010, 04:35:20 PM

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Christoph Boeckle

Hello Eero and all

Sometimes Zombie Cinema gets heavy on the conflict, people just going into the conflict for conflict's sake. On the one hand, I think it's just a matter of getting the hang of the game and the possibilities it offers (especially the possibility not to do something even if you could). On the other, I wonder if there's a possibility to offer a strategic choice to players to actually choose not to fly into conflict at every single scene. Of course, in the long term, conflicts need to remain the game's engine for advancing the plot, but a moment of quiet (à la "Reflection sequence" in Dirty Secrets or the "Bob" technique from Sex & Sorcery) is nice from time to time. For the while being, choosing to play a conflict-less scene is actually putting the whole table at risk since it's a scene which will count towards the turn and thus the zombie marker's advance. I understand that this can actually be used as a feature to put the characters under pressure in the other scenes. Also, when there's no conflict, there's no chance of having a tie, so it can actually slow down the zombie's advance in some sense (but it doesn't seem very reliable to me).

I was wondering if anybody had toyed with some mechanical options like "if there is no conflict in this scene, the active player may chose to have the first player token be given to the next player" or "when framing his scene, the active player may sacrifice his character X spaces backwards to move the first player token X players forwards; he must describe a scene where his character has some quiet time (no conflict allowed)".

Except if there are some clear reasons why not to do something like this, I'd like to try a rule in this spirit next time I play, and any help in formulating a sensible rule would be greatly appreciated.


Eero Tuovinen

That's not a bad idea, you've already got an essentially solid rules-twist there. I haven't had need for this sort of thing myself (I do bobs, tinged by gravity of the savage time pressure), but I can totally imagine how a certain sort of play environment and certain combinations of narrative styles and player skills would make rewarding bobs reasonable. This would be something I might try myself in the right situation.

A potential problem that comes to mind is that the nature of the game is such that the players are not nearly in full control of the pacing. If you could buy extra scenes for bobs, how would you know where to use that option so as to avoid having too many scenes? The game already has a safety valve for when the players have more scenes than they know what to do with, but it seems potentially awkward if you end up buying a lot of extra scenes in middle-game only to have players pass their turns later on because they blew their narrative wad in those extra scenes they had. It's a lot of responsibility, and one might question whether it's a good idea to reduce the tension and performance pressure caused by the scene economy; if extra build scenes were entirely free, then the players would no longer need to be proactive about establishing their character agendas and filling scenes with dramatic positioning, as they could always just wait and use some free scenes for that. Would the outcome be that the "proper" conflict scene dries up into a mechanical conflict ritual, as all the interesting fictional events are leached into other sorts of scenes?

To counter-act the above sort of worry, there needs to be some sort of price on the ability to have a quiet scene. Is the fact that you "lose" your own turn as the active player by making it a reflection scene sufficient in this regard? I often frame for somebody else's character when I'm the active player, so for me it wouldn't be a big deal as long as we got to move the round marker or otherwise delay the zombies. Adding a price in board positioning is an interesting conceit, although I'm not sure I like the superficial result: having dramatic need of a reflection scene correlates strongly with being a protagonist, so feeding the reflecting character to the zombies seems counter-productive. Mathematically giving up one space of position for moving the round marker one player forward works out nicely, though.

An off-the-wall idea would be something like this: "If a scene ends without conflict, the active player may claim the round marker by adding a die into the zombie dice pool. The zombie dice are rolled alongside all conflicts as a third side, unless there is a characterless player rolling, in which case the zombie dice support him; if the zombie dice win, everybody else loses and the active player narrates as if the conflict were a tie." In this variant you can buy significant time for dramatic pacing at the cost of increasing the probability of ties and zombie victories in conflicts. Note that "zombie dice" work just the same as a player rolling "for the zombies" would, except for the fact that now the zombies can interfere in conflicts between players as well.

I'll need to look into this complex Solar System question next, but totally, yeah - do try something like that out and let us know how it works. Perhaps we can work on something at Spiel if you don't solve this before then? It might be as simple as "After a scene with no conflict the active player can pick any character who did not appear in the scene and put him down one step on the board to move the round marker a step clockwise. If all characters appeared in the scene, tough luck." Who knows, perhaps it'll work just like that.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Christoph Boeckle

Hello Eero

Sorry for the delay in the response. I think I get your ideas and I agree that sacrificing the "bobbing" protagonist is counter productive, whereas allowing free scenes without any mechanical cost is clumsy. Maybe tuning it like this:
The player of the most advanced still-in-game-character may choose to "bob" to move the first-player marker one player forward. If this options is used, the next use can only happen after the zombie pawn has advanced again.
This way, we have a way of assuming protagonisticity (!) of the character, while only allowing one such scene per turn (roughly). This is more powerful in games with few players, which also tend to be the most prone to "total party kill" in my experience. Still not quite satisfying though, since it is not always (rarely?) true that the most advanced character on the board is the most interesting one.

I'm a bit wary of the zombie dice, since it introduces the need for additional material and might defuse the creation of tension amongst the protagonists in early game. I think Essen will be a good opportunity to mess around with this, I haven't had the chance to sit down for a game of Zombie Cinema in a while and don't see it happening till then.